Tag Archives: National League

“This Player has More Honor Than 99 Business men out of 100”

17 Sep

James Palmer O’Neill was the President of the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys—one of baseball’s worst teams of all-time.  With mass defections to the Pittsburgh Burghers of the Players League, the club won four of their first six games, then began a free-fall that ended with the team in eight place with 23-113 record.

O’Neill, who held an interest in the club, but bought controlling interest from Owner William Nimick before the 1891, kept the team afloat during that disastrous 1890 season, and according to The Pittsburgh Dispatch, never lost his faith in the prospects of National League baseball in the city right through the final road trip:

“(The team) landed at Jersey City, bound to play the last series of the disastrous season…They had great difficulty in raising the  money to pay ferryboat fares to Brooklyn and things were awfully blue.  It was raining hard when I met Mr. O’Neill later that morning at Spalding’s Broadway store, and the prospects of taking the $150 guarantee at the game in the afternoon were very slim…(reporters) asked Mr. O’Neill about his club and the outlook for the League.

‘”Never better!  Never Better! We shall come out on top sir, sure.  We’ve got the winning cards and we mean to play them.’”

The paper said O’Neill’s luck changed that day as “he wore his largest and most confident smile, and used the most rosy words in his vocabulary…such pluck compelled the fates to relent.”

The rain stopped and O’Neill was able to leave Brooklyn “with $2000 or more in his clothes,” to meet expenses.

Before the 1891 season, O’Neill told Tim Murnane of The Boston Globe, just how difficult it was to run a National League club during the year of the Brotherhood:

“I think I could write a very interesting book on my experience in baseball that would be worth reading.  How well I remember the opening game in Pittsburgh last spring, and how casually President Nimick was knocked out—and O’Neill laughed heartily at the thought of Nimick’s weakening

“After witnessing the immense crowd of nearly 10,000 people wending their way to the brotherhood grounds, Nimick and I went to the league park.  As we reached the grounds, Nimick walked up to the right field  fence and looked through a knot hole. ‘My God,’ said he, and he nearly fell in a heap at my feet,  ‘Can it be that I have spent my time for 10 years trying to build baseball up in this city and the public have gone entirely back on me?’”

oneillpix

O’Neill trying to catch a championship, 1891

O’Neill said:

“I looked and could see about two dozen people in the bleachers, and not many more in the grand stand (contemporary reports put the attendance at 1000).  Nimick and I then went inside the grounds, and when the bell rang to call play we started up the stairs to our box, carrying the balls to be used in the game.  When about half way up, the president staggered and handed me the balls.  I went up to throw one out for the game.  Nimick turned back, went home without seeing the game, and was not in humor to talk base ball for several weeks.”

O’Neill then told how he managed to keep the team going for the entire season while Nimick planned to fold the team:

“When he came around about four weeks later it was to disband the club, throw up the franchise and quit the business.  I talked him into giving me an option on the franchise for 30 days.  When the time was up I put Nimick off from time to time, and as I didn’t bother him for money he commenced to brace up a little.  I cut down expenses and pulled the club through the season, and now have the game on fair basis in Pittsburgh, with all the old interests pulling together.”

Despite the near collapse of the franchise—or maybe because the near collapse allowed him to get control of the team—O’Neill had good things to say about the players who formed the Brotherhood:

“I have great admiration for the boys who went with the Players’ League as a matter of principle, and will tell you one instance where I felt rather mad.  About the middle of the season, Captain Anson was in Pittsburgh and asked me if I couldn’t get some of my players to jump their contracts (to return to the National League).  “All we want,’ said Anson, ‘is someone to make the start, and then (Buck) Ewing, (King) Kelly, (Jimmy) Ryan, (Jim) Fogarty and other will follow.’

“I told Anson that I had not tried to get any of my old players back since the season started in, but that Jimmy Galvin was at home laid off without pay, and we might go over and see how he would take it.  The Pittsburgh PL team was away at the time.

“We went over to Allegheny  , where Galvin lived, and saw his wife and about eight children.  They said we could find him at the engine house a few blocks away, and we did.  Anson took him to one side and had a long talk, picturing the full downfall of the Players’ League and the duty he owed his family.  Galvin listened with such attention that it encouraged me.  So I said: ‘Now, Mr. Galvin, I am ready to give you $1000 in your hand and a three year contract to return and play with the League.  You are now being laid off without pay and can’t afford it.’

“Galvin answered that his arm would be all right in a few days, and that if (Ned) Hanlon would give him his release he might do business with me, but would do no business until he saw Manager Hanlon.  Do what we would, this ball player, about broke, and a big family to look out for, would not consent to go back on the brotherhood.”

galvin

Galvin

O’Neill said he told Anson after the two left Galvin:

“’I am ashamed of myself.  This player has more honor than 99 business men out of 100, and I don’t propose any more of this kind of business.’ I admire Galvin for his stand, and told Anson so, but the Chicago man was anxious to see some of the stars make a break so the anxious ones could follow.”

O’Neill, after he “lit a fresh cigar,” told how Murnane how he negotiated with his players:

“At the close of (the 1890) season (George “Doggie”) Miller came to me and wanted to sign for next year, as he had some use for advance money.  I asked him how much he thought he was worth, and he said $4000 would catch him.

‘”My goodness son, do you what you are talking about?’ said I, and handing him a good cigar asked him to do me a favor by going home, and while he smoked that cigar to think how much money was made in base ball last season by the Pittsburgh club.  I met Miller the next day at 3 o’clock by appointment, and he had knocked off $800, saying he thought the matter over and would sign for $3200.

“’Now you are getting down to business,’ said I.”

O’Neill sent Miller home two more times, and after he “smoked just for of my favorite brand,” Miller returned and signed a three year contract at $2100 a season.

O’Neill said:

“You see that it always pays to leave negotiations open until you have played your last card.”

Murnane concluded:

“For his good work for the league and always courteous treatment of the players’ league, Mr. O’Neill has the support of not only his league stockholders, but such men as Hanlon, John M. Ward, and the entire Pittsburgh press.  He has the confidence of A.G. Spalding, and is sure to give Pittsburgh baseball a superior quality next season.”

Reborn as the Pirates under O’Neill, the club improved slightly in 1891.  O’Neill, who according to The Pittsburgh Press, lost as much as $40,000 during the 1890-91 season “a blow from which he never recovered financially,”  left Pittsburgh to start the Chamberlain Cartridge Company in Cleveland; he returned to Pittsburgh and served as president of the Pittsburgh Athletic club—which operated the Pirates—from 1895-1898.

He died on January 6, 1908.  The Associated Press said in his obituary:

 “(He was) known from coast to coast as the man who saved the National League from downfall in 1890, ‘the brotherhood year.’”

.

“The Brown Stockings, A Gloomy Title”

14 Sep

Shortly before the 1875 National Association season, the St. Louis Brown Stockings visited Louisville to play an exhibition against the semi-pro Olympics.

The Louisville Courier-Journal wrote with admiration about the building of a professional club in St. Louis:

“The signs of the times indicate a far livelier season of base ball than has ever been enjoyed in America by lovers of the great national pastime.  Especially will this be the case in the west, to which part of our country the great baseball wave has been slowly moving for several years.”

The paper said St. Louis was acting to eclipse Chicago as the “capital” of baseball in the west:

“In order to be honorably represented in the base ball arena, the Mound City folks formed a stock company; gathered in $20,000 from wealthy merchants and millionaires, procured twelve experts in the national game, and now the city smiles while she thinks how her club will walk forward to the pinnacle of fame this year.”

Recruited from “Eastern states,” The Courier-Journal said of the St. Louis team:

“The Brown Stockings, a gloomy title for so gay a set of fellows, though it is rather the fault of St. Louis papers than the base ballists, that they are forced to wear it.  All in all, the St. Louis club is composed of as handsome a set of fellows as ever handled the willow or tossed the ball.  We refer to face as well as form.  Since their engagement by a St. Louis stock company the base-ballists have been under gymnastic training…The members have perfect understanding of each other’s movements, and act accordingly.”

Noting that many of the players had spent the previous season in Brooklyn, the paper said they chose to “come west, like all good people ought to do.”

The Courier-Journal reporter interviewed outfielder Jack “Death to Flying Things” Chapman, who offered a wealth of information on the 19th Century ballplayer:

chapman

Jack Chapman

“(He) is six feet high, and splendidly built, being a ‘man as is a man.’  He only weighs one hundred and seventy-seven and isn’t married, though he contemplates taking a partner someday.”

Chapman, the “best looking man on the team,” who “is much liked by his associates,” was designated the “team scholar” to talk to the press in the absence of manager Dickey Pearce who was ill.  He said:

“St. Louis is bound to be the greatest place on the continent for base ball this season.  Her stock company offered big inducements, and we accepted.”

As for the people who had built the club, Chapman said, they were:

“Very rich and nice people…(the club’s) officers are mostly millionaires, who desire their city ably represented in base ball.  The people ‘turn out’ there in the thousands, and are all agog with base ball excitement.  Five thousand people witnessed our practice game last week.”

Chapman was asked about salaries:

“Substitutes get from $900 to $1200.  Regulars receive $1000 to $2500.  Bob Ferguson (the other “Death to Flying Things), of our old club, gets $2500 this year for captaining the Hartfords.”

Asked what players did in the off-season, Chapman said:

“A good many loaf, and others work at different jobs.  Generally whatever they hit upon that suits.”

As for the St. Louis club’s prospects to overtake the Boston Red Stockings as the nation’s dominant team:

“We hope to do it, and I believe we shall.  The Reds are a good team, made excellent by having stuck together so long.  I consider the (Philadelphia) Athletics the stronger nine this year.  Harry Wright is the best captain in America.  The (New York) Mutuals were the best club last season, and but for the bad feeling among the members would now be champions.”

Finally, Chapman was asked whether he thought Louisville could support a professional team:

“I do, indeed, and am surprised she hasn’t one.”

Chapman was hit and miss on his predictions.  The Brown Stockings were the best club in the west, finishing the season 39-29, but no where close to playing at the caliber of Wright’s Red Stockings (71-8) , the Hartford Dark Blues (54-28), or the Athletics (53-20).

He was correct about Louisville’s chances to get a professional club, The Grays, with Chapman as manager finished fifth in the inaugural season of the National League.

Murnane’s Plan to Save Baseball

29 Aug

For as long as there has been a game, there have been plans intended to “save” it.

Tim Murnane considered himself a diet expert, and a baseball expert.

murnane

Tim Murnane

The baseball player and pioneer turned sportswriter proposed his plan to save baseball in the fall of 1895 in the pages of The Boston Globe.

Murnane said:

“Many lovers of baseball claim that the sport is degenerating, owing to leading clubs engaging players from all parts of the country.

“How can a man, they ask, born and brought up in New York city, join the Boston club and be as anxious to defeat the Giants as would a man hailing from the East?”

Murnane used Cincinnati Reds catcher Morgan Murphy “the great Boston favorite” as an example:

“Year after year he is forced to go out to Cincinnati from his home in Rhode Island when the Boston public would be delighted to see him in a Boston uniform.”

In addition to Murphy, said Murnane, there was Boston infielder and Chicago native Herman Long:

“Now wouldn’t he look more in place in a Chicago uniform.”

In order to give the game “more local coloring” Murnane proposed:

“The National League to be composed of eight clubs, representing Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore in the east, Pittsburgh, Chicago Cleveland and Cincinnati in the west.”

Murnane then set up a series of territories, for example, all Chicago players would have to come from Illinois, Iowa, or Minnesota—New York could only sign players From Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. Each team could only sign players from their territory.

Players from all western states except California would be eligible to play for any of the “western” teams, and California players would be able to sign with any club.

Next, Murnane proposed reestablishing the American Association as a feeder league with franchises in in Providence, Brooklyn, Washington D.C., Buffalo, Louisville, St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Columbus. These teams could sign players from anywhere and the entire rosters would be eligible to be drafted by the National League clubs at the close of each season.

Part of Murnane’s plan also addressed one of his personal crusades:

”Abolish Sunday ball playing by league clubs and make it optional with the clubs of the association.”

The Globe published a list of every current major leaguer, and showed which team they would be with under the plan.

Murnane was convinced his proposal:

“Would give baseball a grand boom from Maine to California, as it would revive the interest among the amateur players and give each section of the country something special to work for.”

The Globe’s larger rival, The Boston Post, couldn’t wait to tell readers how horrible Murnane’s plan was.

Never mentioning the rival paper’s writer by name, The Post said:

“The recent scheme of how to enliven baseball in the East and give the game more local tinge has given the gossiper a chance to assert himself.”

The “scheme” said The Post had already been “exploded by many of the enthusiasts, ball players, and ex-ball players in this vicinity.”

One local businessman and “greatest enthusiasts of the game in this city,” noted that the champion Baltimore Orioles did not have a single player from their “territory,” and “There would be a great deal of kicking,” from Orioles fans.

Beaneaters president Arthur Soden told the paper he was against the plan despite the fact that:

“We might, of course, have a winning team, as we have such a lot of men to pick from, but it looks to me that the other teams in consequence would be handicapped for good men.”

An Eastern League umpire named John Bannon, noted that the geographical restrictions would be a boon for owners as players would “be forced to sign for any amount the magnates offered them, “ and pronounced the plan “ridiculous.”

James “Doc” Casey, a Massachusetts native then with the Toronto Canucks in the Eastern League, who would later play 10 major league seasons—none in Boston—was also against the plan:

“If directors were forced to make up their teams from a certain territory, then the extremes would be reached. One club would have all of the cracks and another would be forced to go through the season with a crowd of men who be incompetent.”

With that, Murnane’s plan to “save” baseball died a quiet death.

“An Impenetrable Mystery Surrounds the Whereabouts of Arlie Latham”

13 Aug

Arlie Latham was missing.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch said:

 “An impenetrable mystery surrounds the whereabouts of Arlie Latham, the great third baseman of the Brownstocking Club.”

In two days, the defending American Association champion Browns were scheduled to play a preseason “World’s Championship” series with the National League champion Chicago White Stockings, and Latham was missing.

The paper said there were “wild-eyed” rumors that Latham had arrived in town and was at the home of his mother in law, “Mrs. Garvin, No. 2315 Chestnut Street.”

lathampix

Arlie Latham

The Garvin’s next door neighbor even “came downtown…and stated positively that he had seen Latham on (April 3) walking around the yard and removing clothes lines from the back fence or engaged in some equally domestic occupation.”

The paper said there were several stories circulating about Latham:

“(T)hat (Browns) President (Chris) von der Ahe had seen him and knows that he is here…(they) understand each other and have prepared a big surprise for the audience at the opening game…and that all the differences between them as to salary has been amicably settled.”

Or:

“Latham is laid up at his wife’s mother’s house on Chestnut Street and is suffering with malarial fever.”

Or:

“The present abode of Latham (is) a mystery.”

The final story was based on the fact that “numerous letters” were waiting for Latham unclaimed at the Laclede Hotel “where he generally stops when in the city.”

The paper sent a reporter to the Garvin house to interrogate Latham’s mother in law:

“The bell was answered by the lady herself, who when Latham was asked for, replied:

“’Mr. Latham is not here.’

“’When did he leave?’

“’Last fall some time.’”

Mrs. Garvin said she had received a letter the da before from her daughter who she said was in Lynn, Massachusetts.

Mrs. Garvin asked the reporter:

“’What interest do you take in Mr. Latham?’

“Don’t you know the Browns are going to play the Chicagos Thursday?’

“’No, I didn’t know anything about that.’”

The reporter told Mrs. Garvin there were reports Latham had been seen at her home:

“’Well, I can’t see how anybody could say such a thing.’”

The Post-Dispatch then sought an answer from the Browns owner:

“Extensive questioning could bring no definite answer from President von der Ahe regarding the mystery.”

The Browns owner did tell the paper:

“No, you can put that down positively he has not signed with the club, and what’s more I’m not going to come to his terms.’

“’What does he want?’

“’Well, he says he won’t play with us this year unless I pay him $2800, and I’ll never do that.”

vonderahe

von der Ahe

According to von der Ahe, he offered Latham $2500 for the season:

“’I’ve made him an offer that is sufficiently good for his services, and if he doesn’t want to sign for that, he needn’t.’”

When the Browns opened the series, Latham was still missing.  Eight thousand people turned out for the first game against Chicago and Lou Sylvester played third.  The Browns lost six to three.

But, apparently, the reports that Latham was in town were incorrect.

The Post-Dispatch said von der Ahe received a telegram from Latham during the game saying he would be in St. Louis that evening.

The Chicago Tribune said Latham accepted $2500 for the 1887 season.

Latham arrived in St. Louis on the evening of April 7, and started for the Browns the next day, The Post-Dispatch said:

“Latham shows up in excellent for and guards their third bag.”

He went 0 for 2 with two walks in a seven to four Browns victory.

The White Stockings won the series four games to two.  Latham hit .440 with 11 hits in 25 at bats.  The regular season started the day after the series.

The Browns won another American Association championship in 1887, finishing 14 games ahead of the Cincinnati Red Stockings.

Latham, arguably, had his best season.  He hit .316, and with the loose scoring for stolen bases in 1887 he had 129.

“Baumgardner Ought to be one of the Greatest Pitchers in Baseball”

30 Jul

Two things were certain after George Baumgardner’s major league debut—a 4 to 1 victory over the Big Ed Walsh and the Chicago White Sox—he had talent, and he was a bit odd.

The Chicago Tribune said:

“He had a lot of speed.  The best thing he had was splendid control.  He seemed able to cut the ball across any portion of the plate except the middle, and he seldom gave the Sox a chance to belt a good one, yet he was getting them over for strikes.”

The Chicago Daily News said Baumgardner was told it was a big deal that he had beaten Walsh:

“’Who is this fellow Walsh?’ he asked.  He was told that Big Ed is considered by many the greatest pitcher in the game.  ‘If he’s so good why don’t some National League clubs draft him?’  Inquired Baumgardner innocently.  He has since been told that the American League, in which he promises to earn fame, is a major organization just like the National.”

baumg

Baumgardner, 1912

He was 37-47 with a 3.12 ERA in his first three seasons for Browns teams that lost 101, 90, and 88 games.

However, he was sent home by the Browns after appearing in just seven games in 1915—he was 0-2 with a 4.43 ERA.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said, the pitcher “has hit the lonesome trail of the West Virginia pines…and has been advised to go home and get in shape.”

After the 1915 season, American League umpire Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column that, “Baumgardner…ought to be one of the greatest pitchers in baseball, but he is not, and thereby hangs a rather interesting tale.”

Evans said:

“Baumgardner has wonderful speed and a beautiful curve.  He is fleet of foot and a corking good fielder.  There are in the major leagues today any number of pitchers rated as stars who do not possess one-half the natural ability.”

Evans said in addition to his slow start, the Browns gave up on the pitcher so easily because of the financial stress the Federal League had caused American and National League clubs:

“Baumgardner’s salary was surely $4,000 or better, because George Stovall tried to sign him for the (Kansas City) Feds.  Stovall, having managed the Browns (Stovall jumped to Kansas City before the 1914 season) was familiar with Baumgardner’s ability. There are few players who would let such a salary slip away from the without making some effort to retain it.”

Evans claimed that after they sent him home, the Browns never heard from their pitcher, and “his whereabouts during the summer was unknown,’ to the team.

“The only news ever received from the eccentric pitcher came through a St. Louis traveling man, who made the small towns in the south.  He bumped into Baumgardner in a West Virginia hamlet pitching for one of the village clubs.  He watched him perform, said he never looked better; so good in fact he could have gotten a long without his outfield.”

Evans said the man asked the pitcher if he had been in touch with the Browns:

“’I am waiting to hear from them,’ was Baumgardner’s reply.  ‘I guess if they really thought they could use me they would have me rounded up.  I ain’t much on letter writing; they don’t need to expect any word from me.”

Evans said:

“It hardly seems possible that in times of war, when big salaries were almost possible fir the mere asking, a fellow would let it get away from him (but) nothing worries the big fellow, it is easy come, easy go with him.”

Baumgardner’s 1916 season was even more unusual than 1915.  He again reported to the Browns out of shape, and struggled.

In June, the Browns attempted to sell him to the Memphis Chickasaws in the Southern Association.  The Post-Dispatch said:

“George Baumgardner of Barboursville, WV, the heart of the Blue Ridge belt, is all puffed up like a pouter pigeon because he has signed a new contract with the Browns.  All of which proves how easy it is to get Baumgardner all puffed up.

“This contract, which Baumgardner considers and asset, according to his own statement, calls for $75 a month.”

The paper said Baumgardner would have earned $200 a month with the Chickasaws, but told manager Fielder Jones:

“Who’ll ever see me pitch in Memphis?”

Baumgardner lasted just one more month in St. Louis.  He appeared in four games for the Browns and posted a 7.88 ERA before being released on July 20.

The Sporting News said the Browns attempted send Baumgardner to the Little Rock Travelers, where he would have earned $250 a month and he again said he wasn’t interested:

“But even that ($75 a month) was too much, thought Fielder Jones, so one day last week he handed Baumgardner another release, his second or third in three months, and told him positively to get away and stay away.”

Baumgardner said his right arm had “gone back on him,” and that he was going to “go back to the mountains and practice with my left arm.”

After several days he joined the Travelers.

He only lasted a month in Little Rock.  Baumgardner was 2-1 in five appearances on August 21 when The Arkansas Democrat said he was heading back to West Virginia:

“(He) says he is going home this week and stay there until next season—maybe.  Or he may come back and help the Travelers in the last few days.”

Baumgardner promised the paper he would return and “not lose more than four games” in 1917.

baumgardner

Baumgardner, 1917

The Arkansas Gazette summed up his 1917 season:

“Every time “Bummie” goes out he gets a beating.”

And he didn’t keep his word.  He lost five games in 1917, winning three, before being released by Little Rock on June 7.

After winning 37 games in his first three major league seasons, Baumgardner’s professional career was over six weeks before his 25th birthday.

King Kelly’s Contract

25 May

Mike “King” Kelly signed in 1891 to captain the new American Association club in Cincinnati and joined the Boston Reds in that league after Cincinnati released him in August.  But after just eight days with the reds he jumped to the Boston Beaneaters of the National League.

The New York World called Kelly’s action, a “Hard blow to the Association.”

Kelly jumped as representatives of the two leagues were engaged in a “Peace conference” at Washington’s Arlington Hotel.

The Baltimore Sun said:

“The action of Kelly had the effect of breaking up pending negotiations, for the time being at least, the Association representatives leaving the conference when the League men refused to give them any assurance that would be compelled to remain with the Reds.”

kingkelly

Mike “King” Kelly

The Chicago Evening Post claimed to have the story behind Kelly’s move, and concluded which team he “morally” belonged to:

“It is held by persons who urge that they know that the King signed a Boston (NL) contract and accepted advance money two months before (he signed with Cincinnati).  The incident happened at the Fifth Avenue Hotel (in New York) last winter during the conferences that finally ended in the dissolution of the brotherhood.  One night Kelly came into the hotel ‘broke,’ having spent the afternoon and his roll at Guttenberg.”

Guttenberg was a racetrack located across the river from Manhattan, in what is now North Bergen, New Jersey—open from 1885-1893, it was at the time, the only track that held winter racing in a winter climate.

The Evening Post said Kelly found “His old friend, Director (William) Conant of the Boston (National League) triumvirate.”  Kelly said:

“’Bill, I’m dead broke.  Can I touch you for a few hundred?’

“’I don’t know Kel’ was the reply.  ‘I guess, though, you can have the money if you’ll sign a contract to play ball with me.’”

The paper said the two went upstairs to Conant’s room:

“A League contract was produced and a roll of greenbacks was spread before the King’s beaming countenance.  ‘Kel’ picked up the money, signed the contract and then put both the money and the document into his pocket, with the cool remark:

“’When I get ready to return this contract to you, Bill, I will.  See?’

“And with that he walked of.”

The Evening Post said Kelly initially signed with the Boston Reds after his release from Cincinnati because he tried to borrow more money from Conant:

“Conant refused to accommodate him unless that contract was handed over.  But ‘Kel’ was obstinate, and not getting the money from Conant, went over to (Charles A.) Prince, who gladly gave it to him.”

But, Kelly quickly decided to honor the “contract” he signed with Conant:

“These are facts, every one of them, from which it must be inferred that Kelly was really under contract morally to the Boston League people all the time that he played with Cincinnati and the Boston Reds.”

The Beaneaters were in second place, four games behind the Chicago Colts, on the day Kelly jumped, August 25.  Kelly only appeared in 16 games and hit just .231, but Boston went on a tear, winning 30 of their last 40 games after the King joined the club, and overtook Chicago for sole possession of first place on September 30, and won the pennant by three and a half games.

Joe Nealon

2 May

There was a race to sign Joe Nealon in 1905.  The San Francisco Chronicle said he was “thought to be the equal of Hal Chase,” the fellow first baseman and Californian who made his major league debut that season.

By November, West Coast newspapers had reported that at least four teams were after Nealon—the New York Highlanders, Boston Americans, St. Louis Browns, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, and Pittsburgh Pirates were after Nealon.

nealon

Joe Nealon

There likely would have been even more interest in Nealon if not for his background; as The Chronicle said after Nealon signed with the San Francisco Seals before the 1905 season:

“Parental objection had to be overcome, and this was accomplished through an understanding that the boy would remain in professional baseball not more than two or three seasons.”

Nealon was the son of the James C. Nealon, a wealthy real estate executive, elected official, owner of thoroughbreds, and one of the best known handball players on the West Coast who often played with boxer Jim Corbett.

Nealon attended St. Ignatius College (now the University of San Francisco) and had played in the California State League in 1903 and 1904.

Cincinnati and Boston appeared to be the most aggressive pursuer of Nealon; according to The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“Everybody who has seen him work says that Nealon will fill the bill.  He is described as a second Bill Lange at the bat, and a new edition of Charley Comiskey on the bag.  Allowing for exaggeration he seems to be the real goods.”

The Reds dispatched Ted Sullivan to San Francisco. The Americans sent Dan Long.  They did not know that Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Fred Clarke was on his way West as well; Clarke arrived first. The Pirates manager won out.  The Pittsburgh Post said:

“It was against these two men that Clarke had to use his ingenuity in securing Nealon.  The player is a freelance and was at liberty to join a team of his own selection.  Being independently wealthy and playing baseball only for the sport he finds in it.  Nealon was not influenced by any financial proposition.”

Reds owner August Herrmann told The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“I had become very much interested in young Nealon and regret that we did not succeed in getting him, but there is no use mourning over his loss.”

While Herrmann might not have been mourning, others in Cincinnati were and blamed Sullivan.

Jack Ryder of The Enquirer said:

“Why was not Ted Sullivan on the ground earlier?  Ted left Cincinnati a week ago last Saturday (October 29) with instructions to make a bee line for Frisco.  Mr. Herrmann knew that there was keen competition for  the services of Nealon…If Sullivan had reached San Francisco on Tuesday or Wednesday, as he was expected to do he would have got in ahead of Fred Clarke, and the chances would have favored his securing the player.”

Ryder said he had a letter from James C. Nealon written to Herrmann promising “that his son would sign with Cincinnati, ‘other things being equal,’” Ryder noted that the Reds “offered the boy more salary than any other club including Pittsburgh.”

Ryder concluded:

“Fred Clarke, who was on the spot, while Ted Sullivan was not, was able to persuade (Nealon) that the Pirates are a far better aggregation than the Reds.”

Ted Sullivan was not about to blamed, and fired off a letter to The Enquirer:

“There is not a man in the city of Cincinnati that would feel as much hurt as myself to lose a good man for the Cincinnati club.  The two years that I have acted as agent for Mr. Herrmann he has treated me like a king, and has showed a disposition to back my judgment on the skill of a player.”

tedsullivan

Ted Sullivan

Sullivan said in the letter, he had discovered Nealon’s “hidden skill” in August:

“The skill I noticed in Nealon (I wrote Mr. Herrmann at the time) was skill hidden beneath a dross of inexperience and youth.”

While he conceded that some time in the major leagues would “make him a star,” he assured The Enquirer he was not of the caliber of Sullivan’s favorite first baseman:

“The greatest first baseman in the history of the game, Charles Comiskey, was my own selection and making (which I say without egotism), but the California fledgling, without disparaging him, is a pallbearer compared to the magnetism of the matchless Comiskey.”

Sullivan blamed his inability to sign Nealon on Nealon’s father.  He claimed to have offered $3,800 to the first baseman in August, and was told that money was not the critical consideration, but complained that Nealon Sr. had immediately “proclaimed throughout Frisco, with the aid of a flashlight, and had also the newspaper men transmit (the offer) to all of the papers in the East.”

As for arriving is San Francisco after Clarke, Sullivan blamed that on the railroads:

“(I) was blocked between Salt Lake and Sacramento, caused by the immense amount of trains”

But, said Sullivan, none of that mattered.  Nealon’s father had not dealt with the Reds in good faith:

“Mr. Nealon Sr., who claimed he was not out for the money, called Fred out on the porch of the house and showed him, in confidence, the offer from Cincinnati.”

The latest Cincinnati offer was $6500—with a clause that promised $1000 more than any other offer Nealon would receive–Sullivan said.  Clarke matched the $6500, he said, and signed Nealon.

fredclarkepix

Fred Clarke

There was more said Sullivan:

“Now comes the most brazen effrontery of offended dignity that has more hypocritic brass in it than the Colossus of Rhodes.  With this standing offer of Mr. Herrmann’s in his hands for days before I arrived,  I asked Mr. Nealon Sr., why he did not close with Mr. Herrmann on such a grand offer.  ‘Why,’ says he, ‘I consider it an insult for any man to make me such an offer as that, as it would appear that I was playing one club against the other.”  Think of that insult—one man offers another man $1000 more than the highest bidder and he is insulted.”

Sullivan closed his letter by again questioning Nealon’s prospects of making an immediate impact, and said:

“I would rather go down to Millcreek bottoms and pick up some young fellow that wanted to make baseball a profession, than any young man in the United States who thinks that he is condescending to play ball for $7000.”

Sullivan was not the only representative of a club who had expressed interest in Nealon who now questioned the prospects ability.  In response to Frank Chance of the Chicago Cubs who said Nealon was “not of National League Caliber,” The Pittsburgh Press responded:

“Sour Grapes?”

The rest of the story on Friday.

Bed Check, 1887

31 May

In 1887, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch set out to find out “How managers watch their players on the road.”

 

schmelz

Gus Schmelz

 

The paper spoke to Gus Schmelz, manager of the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the American Association; the previous season, Schmelz managed the National League St. Louis Maroons:

“He thinks, of course, that all good ball-players should retire early, and regards plenty of sleep as conducive to good condition.  Most managers agree with him on this head and some of them have difficult tasks in seeing that their men are under the cover at the proper hour. This is particularly true when the club is on the road and when the aggregation is anxious to have a good time with their friends in the city.”

The paper said Jim Mutrie of the New York Giants had what he thought was a great plan to ensure his players were in bed early:

“(H)e keeps a book which he leaves with the hotel clerk who checks off the players’ names with the hour of their application for the key and late comers may expect free lectures the morning following.  This plan is an excellent one, but it may be news to Mutrie to know that some of his pets return as early as 10 o’clock for their keys, are checked off in regular order and after ascending in the elevator to their rooms, as it were, return by the stairway when all is quiet, and come back in the small hours.”

As for John “Kick” Kelly, the new manager of the Louisville Colonels:

“Kelly says his plan is to wait up for the boys, and hammer at their doors until the whole club is housed, but even this plan is easily circumvented by the ingenious players who rack their brains for schemes to outwit their keepers.”

 

kickkelly

Kick Kelly

 

The only manager who had a plan that was working well, according to the paper, was:

“One of the most prominent and best-known managers in the country, whose name it is unnecessary to mention, has recently adopted a new plan for keeping track of his men, and from which there seems no loop-hole of escape. His orders to his men are that everyone should be asleep by 11 o’clock, thus giving them ample time for repose.  When traveling, this rigorous manager waits at the hotel desk until the hands of the clock point to 10:30, and then every key in the rack which opens his rooms is turned over to him.  These he carries with him to his own, and the tardy player must rouse him up and obtain his key or else stay away during the whole night.  In either case, the unfortunate man has a sure guarantee of a sound tongue-threshing, if not a comfortable fine.  The plan has operated with immense success thus far, but whether it will continue to do so remains to be seen.”

“(He) Should Remain an Outcast Forever”

8 May

Thomas Stevens Rice was an attorney, a criminologist, and covered baseball for The Brooklyn Eagle for nearly 20 years.  In 1921, he related a story that he said showed:

“That the mills of the gods may grind rapidly, as well as grind exceedingly fine.”

 

thomasstevensrice

Thomas Stevens Rice

 

The story was told to him by George A. Putnam, the business manager of the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League.

“Outside of San Francisco in the small towns is the Mission League, composed of semi-pro clubs and containing many old professional ballplayers, who turn an honest penny on the side in the sport now that they have passed from the big show and are regularly engaged in their occupations.

“Among the towns in the Mission League is San Jose. And San Jose has a semi-pro park that would delight Ring Lardner.  Far out in center is an ambitious scoreboard, liberally decorated with the advertising sign of the town’s leading hardware merchant and a strong supporter of the team.

“About a month ago San Jose was playing at home and a ball was hit to center it was diligently pursued by two outfielders, both formerly in organized baseball, one of them a major leaguer in his day.  They chased the ball up to the scoreboard and tried to retrieve it before carried out of sight of the umpire, but failed.

“As the two veterans whipped around the corner of the board they surprised a man peeping at the game through the planking.  He was seedy in apparel, had a beard of several days growth, and a general air of utter forlornness. Both outfielders were at first indifferent to the stranger, but a second glance identified him.

“The utterly forlorn stranger was Hal Chase, who two years ago was a member of the New York Giants, at a salary that was probably beyond that which until war times was paid a United States Senator.  It was the same Hal Chase who had been tried by the National League on the charge of throwing games when a member of the Cincinnati Reds and acquitted for lack of definite evidence; the same Hal Chase who had been given another chance by the New York National League club; the same Hal Chase who had been fired by the New York National League club on charges which were never fully explained, but were clearly understood to be based upon alleged crookedness; it was the same Hal Chase who had left New York, returned to his home state of California, and had been barred from the ball parks of that state on the ground of being involved in betting.”

halchasepix

Hal Chase

Rice had no complaints about the “forlornness,” or fate, of Chase:

“Chase, who stands before the world bearing unrefuted charges of having crooked the game which brought him fame and fortune, and which is an institution of which his country has been vastly proud, should remain an outcast forever he would be no more than bearing part of the penalty he deserved.  If every man who had a hand in the crooking of the national game should die an outcast in the gutter, despised by the potter’s field men who bury him.  It would be no more than they deserved.”

Rice also said there were fans who deserved the same fate as Chase:

“The baseball fan who patronizes semi-pro or other games openly participated in by men who have brought the national sport into disrepute and cast a cloud over its honesty merits the fate of a Chase for helping to encourage crookedness.”

He said his statements were in no way exaggerating his position—one he said was critical to protect the integrity of the game:

“The effective penalty imposed upon (Bill) Craver, (George) Hill [sic Hall], (Jim) Devlin, and (Al) Nichols in the 1870s (all were banned for accepting money to lose games in 1877), was not their being dropped from baseball and forced to turn to other means of making a living.  It was the ostracism that followed them their graves and made them anathema even in the society of professional thieves.”

And, he said, all penalties related to gambling should remain in effect forever:

“To impose a definite penalty on baseball crooks and then have the public forgive and forget when it is worked out, would be nothing less than an incentive to a repetition of the crime.  Let the possible throwers of games and the pawns of gamblers know they will be sneered at on the street by every pickpocket and dog-stealer who recognizes them, and that a bartender at a black and tan speakeasy will refuse to serve them.”

“A little thing like a Presidential Campaign…is Ridiculous to Contemplate”

3 Oct

Frederick R. Toombs wrote and edited books about hockey, wrestling, and the origins of “court games, and was also a novelist and spent the first decade of the 20th Century writing syndicated articles about sports and politics.

Less than a month before the 1908 presidential election, he wrote:

“When a wave of baseball frenzy sweeps over the United States, the most momentous affairs of life and state speedily are thrusted aside.  Nothing must stand in the way of the American citizen who hungers to hear the resounding crack of a home run hit.  A little thing like a presidential campaign in this greatest of all baseball years is ridiculous to contemplate.  Many a big league game in this record breaking year has been attended by upward of 35,000 people.  Who ever heard of a presidential candidate drawing such an audience?”

Toombs noted that on the day John W. Kern was selected as the Democratic nominee; the same day his running mate, William Jennings Bryan “delivered a much-heralded speech on trusts,” the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates,and New York Giants were locked in a three-team battle for the National League pennant:

“The big dailies spread the baseball story across the front page, and Mr. Kern and Mr. Bryan were pushed back among the advertisements.  Mr. (William Howard) Taft and Mr. (James S.) Sherman have suffered in much the same way.  Their lengthy communications in the public are frequently shoved back in juxtaposition to the ‘Help Wanted’ column, and in the choice spots of the papers appear stories relating (to every aspect of the baseball season.”

William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft

As for the election, he said:

“In fact, whoever is elected to the presidency the defeated man will be fully justified in laying his downfall to the nerve racking races in the National and American Leagues.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

“A season like that now drawing to a close has never occurred before.  The National League (three-team) race…and the American, with Detroit, Cleveland St. Louis and Chicago hacking at each other’s throat (Detroit won the pennant—Cleveland finished ½ game back, Chicago 1 ½, and St. Louis 6 ½) have carried the game to heights of popularity hitherto undreamed of.  The New York National team, for instance, will close the season with almost $500,000 in profits.”

1908 Detroit Tigers

1908 Detroit Tigers

Baseball, said Toombs, had become more than the nation’s most popular sport:

“When the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley) said, ‘The Battle of Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton,’ he conveyed an authoritative opinion of the tremendous influence which may be exerted on a nation, a hemisphere, or a world by a form of sport, a mere pastime.  Inferentially one may well say, that according to ‘The Iron Duke’,’ had it not been for the strength giving qualities of cricket, Napoleon would have won at Waterloo and become, without question the arbitrary dictator of all Europe. Baseball in America holds the position that cricket has in England, and the influence of the game on the American people is of even greater importance and significance than ever known of cricket in England…Not only is baseball the national game; it is the national craze.  It is the only and original, pure and undefiled, blown in the bottle brand of Dementia Americana.”

Toombs concluded:

“Campaign managers may fume and fret, but baseball is a necessity; politics is a luxury.”

The Cubs beat the Tigers four games to one in the World Series; Taft beat Bryan by more than a million votes on November 3.

1908 Chicago Cubs

1908 Chicago Cubs

Note:   The phrase “Dementia Americana” had entered the lexicon one year earlier during the trial of Harry Kendall Thaw, who in 1906 killed a man who was having an affair with his wife.  His defense attorney, Delphin Michael Delmas, said Thaw suffered from “Dementia Americana—the sort that makes Americans defend the sacredness of their homes and their wives and children. “ The 1907 trial–the first “trial of the Century”of the 20th Century–resulted in a hung jury. Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1908.